What is substance abuse?
Alcoholism and drug dependence and addiction, known as substance use disorders, are complex problems. People with these disorders once were thought to have a character defect or moral weakness; some people mistakenly still believe that. Most addiction professionals and medical researchers now consider dependence on alcohol or drugs to be a long-term chronic illness, like asthma, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Most people who drink alcohol drink sensibly, and many people can stop taking drugs without a struggle. Nevertheless, some people develop a substance use disorder, use of alcohol or drugs that is compulsive or dangerous (or both).
Why do some people develop a problem but others don't ?
Substance use disorder is an illness that can affect anyone: rich or poor, male or female, employed or unemployed, young or old, and any race or ethnicity. Nobody knows for sure exactly what causes it, but the chance of developing a substance use disorder depends partly on genetics; biological traits passed down through families. A persons environment, psychological traits, and stress level also play major roles by contributing to the use of alcohol or drugs. Researchers have found that using drugs for a long time changes the brain in important, long-lasting ways. It is as if a switch in the brain turned on at some point. This point is different for every person, but when this switch turns on, the person crosses an invisible line and becomes dependent on the substance. People who start using drugs or alcohol early in life run a greater risk of crossing this line and becoming dependent. These changes in the brain remain long after a person stops using drugs or drinking alcohol. Even though your family member has an illness, it does not excuse the bad behaviour that often accompanies it. Your loved one is not at fault for having a disease, but he or she is responsible for getting treatment.
What are the symptoms of substance use disorders?
One of the most important signs of substance addiction or dependence is continued use of drugs or alcohol despite experiencing the serious negative consequences of heavy drug or alcohol use. Often, a person will blame other people or circumstances for his or her problems instead of realizing that the difficulties result from use of drugs or alcohol. Perhaps your loved one has even blamed you. People with this illness really do believe that they drink normally or that everyone takes drugs. These false beliefs are called denial, and denial is part of the illness.
Other important symptoms of substance use disorders include
A person will need increasingly larger amounts of alcohol or drugs to get high.
A person will feel a strong need, desire, or urge to use alcohol or drugs, will use alcohol or a drug despite negative consequences, and will feel anxious and irritable if he or she cant use them. Craving is a primary symptom of addiction.
A person will often drink more alcohol or take more drugs than he or she meant to, or may use alcohol or drugs at a time or place he or she had not planned. A person also may try to reduce or stop drinking or using drugs many times, but may fail.
In some cases when alcohol or drug use is stopped, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms from a physical need for the substance. Withdrawal symptoms differ depending on the drug, but they may include nausea, sweating, shakiness, and extreme anxiety. The person may try to relieve these symptoms by taking either more of the same or a similar substance.
Why does treatment take so long?
Substance use disorders affect every part of a persons life. For that reason, treatment needs to affect every part of a persons life as well. Treatment involves more than helping someone stop drinking alcohol or using drugs. Actually, stopping alcohol use or drug use is just the beginning of the recovery process. Your family member will need to learn new ways to cope with daily life. He or she will need to relearn how to deal with stress, anger, or social situations and how to have fun without using drugs or drinking. Learning these new skills involves a lot of work. Many people enter treatment only because of pressure from the legal system, employers, parents, spouses, or other family members. The first step in treatment then is to help them see that they do have a problem and to become motivated to change for themselves. This process often takes time.
Your family member will also need time to understand and begin to use the support of the self-help groups mentioned before. These groups will be important to his or her recovery for many years to come.
Remember: It can take a long time for the disease to develop and it is often chronic; therefore, it can take a long time to treat it.